Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fruit of the Spirit and Luck

Thursday, June 10, 2010 -- Week of Proper 5, Year Two
Ephrem of Edessa, Syria, Deacon, 373

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)
Psalms [70], 71 (morning)       74 (evening)
Ecclesiastes 11:1-8
Galatians 5:16-24
Matthew 16:13-20

Paul and the Teacher of Ecclesiastes have some similar arguments to make today.

Paul has told his congregation that they are free from the law, free from living under objective precepts of right and wrong.  Now he tells them that freedom is not license.  How do you, as a free agent, live authentically?  Paul contrasts two directions -- the way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit.  Move away from the former and move toward the latter. 

How do we know the difference?  Look at their fruits, Paul says. 

Here are the works of the flesh -- don't go this way:  "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these."  Sounds a little like a "don't do" list, doesn't it?  Paul doesn't intend to create a new law, but he wants to offer examples of things that take us the wrong direction.

It's probably better to concentrate on the good stuff.  Be drawn into the way of the Spirit.  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things."  That's a great list.  (This is a verse worth memorizing -- learning by heart; taking it into your self so deeply that it lives in our heart.)

Many of the conflicts that haunt our communities are conflicts between those who have been taught that one form of social relationship is right, proper, the rule, or the law, and others who see the fruit of the Spirit evidenced in a different direction.  That's the debate about sexuality in a nutshell.  Some say anything other than a received, established tradition is sinful and wrong; others say we see the fruit of the Spirit in another form.  On that basis the church changed its canon laws about remarriage after divorce.  We saw the fruitfulness and love of some Christians who had remarried (outside the Episcopal Church) and experienced a resurrection in their lives and evidenced the signs of the spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.  So we changed our laws (in 1968, I think) and made it possible for someone who has been divorced to be married again in the church.  Today, we're having a similar debate about the loving, committed relationships of gay people.

In essence, Paul says you can't make up a set of rules on the front end and expect them to work for you.  Be liberated from the law.  But use your freedom responsibly, in the pursuit of the things of the Spirit.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes says, in essence, you can't know squat about anything.  So give up the quest for certainty and any attempt to control the future, and enjoy your work when you can; enjoy the little things in life as you can.

The wonderful wisdom parables in today's reading remind me of an old story from Eastern wisdom.  Here's an abbreviated version (from Geraldine Wagner) of the version of the story that Anthony de Mello tells: 

A farmer's horse ran away one day and all the villagers came to him saying, Oh what bad luck you've had! Your horse that you need to do your work is gone!  The farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?

Several days later, the farmer's horse returned, followed by a herd of wild horses!  Oh what good luck you have, cried the same villagers! Not only has your horse returned, he has brought you many horses!  The farmer again shrugged his shoulders and said, Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?

One day not long after, the farmer's son was trying to break one of the wild horses. He was thrown off the horse and broke his leg.  Oh what bad luck you have! Cried the villagers. Now your son has a broken leg. Who will help you?  The farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?

Not long after, as the son was recuperating, an army came through the village and took all the young males to fight in a war in another region. They did not take the farmer's son because of his broken leg.  Oh what good luck you have! The villagers cried once again. Your son has been spared being taken off to war because of his broken leg!  The farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?

The Teacher warns:  "Whoever observes the wind will not sow; and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.  ...In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good."



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul doesn't intent to create a new law? Why would he? Aren't these already in the law?


At 7:12 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Paul really wants us to abandon entirely the notion of following the law. He wants us to live out of our relationship with Christ, which is the gift of loving acceptance lived out in community. You are "forgiven, loved and free," as the old hymn says. Now, live in that Spirit. No rules. Just love. He's really pretty fierce about that.



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